Comptroller-General of Immigration, Muhammad Babandede

RECENTLY, visited the Ikoyi Passport office of the Nigeria Immigration Service described as the most sensitive passport office in the country and noted some positive changes against the norm, this led our correspondent to dig deeper and uncover what has caused the transformation in a place that used to be crowded with people touting and others trying to extort you.


An unsuspecting source, immigration officer ( name withheld) that we spoke to covertly at the SERVICOM desk did her job too perfectly and innocently furnished our correspondent with virtually all the information we needed while not being aware she was being recorded.


Our reporter noticed the hitherto crowded gate filled with officers at the access point before you go through screening was bare with just two immigration police who courteously asked what we came for, to which we said to acquire a passport, we were let through.


The Comptroller General of National Immigration Service ( NIS), Muhammad Babandede had in July 27, visited the Ikoyi Passport office and spoke on reforms, giving stern warnings on extortion and touting at the offices.


One of his directives was the end to cash transactions at all immigration offices, warning service men that if caught with cash it will be used as exhibit for their punishment.


He said then, ” since we started the e-passport 10 years ago, the payment has been by hand and for us to be in line with the directive of Mr. President on corruption, our officers must not have access to cash. If they do not see cash, they can concentrate better on the machines, they can capture people properly; service would be delivered.”

Ikoyi Passport Office of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Lagos

The source who spoke on what has happened since the CG’s visit said that the new team in charge took some steps that ensured that those involved in touting at the office became obsolete.


She highlighted some of the tools used to battle the existing challenges ascribing it to strategic thinking through getting the process working again and adequate communication with applicants when the need arises, providing them information that eases the process for them.


According to her you don’t need to know anyone to procure a passport document, and what is dangled about by touts is the need to get it done expressly.


“Since many think once you want to come for passport you need to know somebody, there are a lot of touting outside with promises of express jobs but when people start realizing when up go in and in a matter of tomorrow or next you have collected the passport, tactically, we edged the touts out. Because the role they were playing was because of the ‘ express factor’ so with what we did, we tactically, withdrew or edged out these categories of people.”

“From July, we have started waiting for files for people to capture and pick their passports which has not happened in five years. As long as you snap, the passport will come out, if it is not out that day it comes out the next day. So the instruction even when you go to immigration website its 72 hours but here we sort less than. If there are hitches or delays it may take longer than 72hours but once all our systems are online as it is, it’s less than 72 hours.”


She expressed sadness Nigerians feel that if you are going to an office, if you don’t know anybody, no one will answer to you stating that the mentality has created a block for people to do what’s right but said they have started combating that with enlightenment .


“we say the best thing to do is always do a morning brief by 8am every morning, our PRO gives a brief. People who come by then will be converged at our halls and briefed. ‘See these are the processes,’ telling people the procedures. If you are new, the system is cashless, don’t patronize anyone outside, come inside straight to SERVICOM, they will guide you on what to do. Morning brief takes care of enlightenment and sensitizing campaign to our prospective applicants,” she said.


Breaking down the matter of touting at the gates, our unsuspecting source explained that there was a paradigm shift which catered for the major changes including but not limited to transferring certain officers who may have been part of the problem.


“No matter how good and organised it is inside, once the gate; which is the first point an applicant will be free to form an opinion, is chaotic, his or her opinions formed from there may manifest inside. So it would have been suicidal of us to leave the gate the way it used to be,” she said.


According to her, known faces, old hands were transferred and new ones were orientated to new ideals. Plus the service reduce the number of those at the gate making it easy to identify who was doing what.


She told,” All the known faces were transferred, a new set of immigration police were brought in and this new set received simple instructions on what they should do. And the number drastically reduced because if they are many, many will now be engaged in the touting. The number was reduced and they underwent an induction training for them to know the specifics of why they are here and if you go outside the boundary of what you are supposed to do then you are on your own.”


“Some of the non officers in the place that are also involved in one thing or the other including touting were transferred out and a register is placed where any officer who does not work here must make an entry their incoming and outgoing times, so when you come today and come tomorrow you too know you need to stop coming.”


That strategically also helped us because some are old and they have spread their tentacles all over and atrocities may be committed by these people but will boomerang on us and as far as whoever is concerned, it is immigration in Ikoyi and meanwhile that officer might have been transferred two years ago or whatever, this is also another way we clamp down on the issues of extortion and touting.”


All institutions have their challenges , some more than others but with determination and set goals some if not a majority of these challenges can be addressed and so leadership and direction matters in institutions that have direct contact with the public.


The Ikoyi passport office is not there yet but is doing all it can to entrench a process that can be used nationwide to curb the menace of touting and extorting around passport offices nationwide, and if the template is improved upon and giving cash to officers completely eliminated as the Comptroller General insisted, then the process can start taking precedence.


People will get service, government will get revenue and everyone will be happy.


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